The Genius of Picasso
Pablo Picasso is one of the most famous artists in history. His first great painting was drawn at age nine, and he completed over 50,000 artworks till he died aged 91 years. This is more than three exceptional artworks every two days. Picasso said that “The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls,” and “only put off until tomorrow what you are willing to die having left undone.”
Picasso produced masterpieces in a wide range of art that included paintings, drawings, prints, sculpture, ceramics, and theatre designs. His artworks are some of the most expensive objects on earth. In 2004 one of his paintings sold for USD 104 million, another in 2006 for USD 106.5 million, and in 2015 his painting “Women of Algiers” sold for USD 179.3 million.
Picasso’s father was an artist and a Professor of Art in Spain. His mother said that Picasso’s first words were “piz, piz”, the Spanish short form for the pencil. From an early age, Picasso showed a talent for painting, and his father instructed him on the accurate drawing of the human body and other objects. He did not complete formal schooling and focused just on art.
He began by painting the most beautiful and realistic paintings. As he grew older, he developed a range of other styles and techniques. His artwork is divided into ten periods, but there is one common thread that runs through all of them. This is the genius of Picasso as he manages to extract the essence of an object in his art. Photographs can accurately reproduce what we see but rarely convey the true meaning behind what we see. Picasso’s great art goes beyond the photograph and captures the core of what an object or person is.
What Picasso does is called “abstraction.” The meaning of this is to take into account only the fundamental aspects of an object and to ignore the many irrelevant parts.
To understand this, look at the many drawings of doves (or Pigeons) by Picasso. (He drew a vast number). From the immense complexity and subtle details that make up a living dove, Picasso was able to represent an “essence” of a dove. While both the following pictures by Picasso are of doves, the second has greater abstraction. Image 1 is from Picasso’s lithograph, “La Colombe,” (The Dove), and was used for the 1949 Peace Conference in Paris.
Image 1. Picasso’s Lithograph of a Dove. Used for a poster announcing the 1949 Paris Peace Conference
Image 2 is one of many other doves of peace that Picasso drew. Picasso’s doves are now recognized as an emblem for peace. Compared to Image 1, the lines in Image 2 are simplified and yet the twin “essences” of a “dove of peace” comes across much more clearly in Image 2.
Image 2. Picasso’s line drawing of a Dove of Peace
If you understand abstraction, you will be able to answer Picasso’s question to a student, “Who sees the human face correctly: the photographer, the mirror, or the painter?” It is the great painter who can give one insight into the real character behind a face in a manner that a photograph or the mirror cannot.
Art and Science
People often see a divide between art and science. However, Picasso shows that both activities are very similar. In science, we try and understand the fundamental aspects of nature. Similarly, in great art, artists like Picasso explore the essence of the world. In this manner, both art and science are striving to achieve similar objectives.
Mae Jemison, the American engineer and NASA astronaut, said, “The difference between science and the arts is not that they are different sides of the same coin even, or even different parts of the same continuum, but rather, they are manifestations of the same thing. The arts and sciences are avatars of human creativity.”
Picasso felt that every child has a natural ability to see the essence of the world but that as we grow older, we become mixed up and distracted by politics and noise, and get confused as to these fundamental aspects. Two of Picasso’s most insightful sayings are:
“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.”
“It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.”
© Kaikhushru Taraporevala